We the Judge and Jury

Adult film star Stoya accused her former boyfriend and fellow porn actor James Deen of rape in a series of tweets posted to her account the weekend of 21-22 November.

On Saturday afternoon, 21 November, she tweeted:

“That thing where you log in to the Internet for a second and see people idolizing the guy who raped you as a feminist.

That thing sucks.”

“James Deen held me down and f—-d me while I said, ” No, stop”, used my safeword.

I just can’t nod and smile when people bring him up anymore.”

Something is off with this story.

Maybe Ms. Stoya was raped.

No one should be forced into sex, regardless of their profession, gender or promiscuity.

But when accusing someone of such of a crime, is tweeting the right way to do it?

She is accusing him in public.

The public is now acting as judge and jury.

The court of public opinion is not a court of law.

There is a need for Stoya to prove that she had been raped for her to be believed.

I agree that a victim should receive sympathy and compassion.

What about the idea that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty?

What is in her mind that she has chosen this method of seeking justice?

Is it because she feels her profession will deny her justice in a court of law?

Is she seeking publicity to expose a criminal or to enhance her name recognition?

I truly hope it is the former.

It takes an amazing amount of courage to report sexual violence.

I truly sympathise with Stoya if she is telling the truth.

I wish we did not live in a world where women live in fear and act on the side of caution.

Far far too often women are attacked by men they believed they could trust.

Far far too many men have never learned how to respect women and treat them in an equal loving way.

Am I the only one frightened by the notion that anyone can tweet anything about anyone else and be judged by the world?

Just as pain, insecurity and limitless fear remain with the victim of sexual violence, so does the scandal remain attached to both the attacked as well as the attacker.

Too often the victim of rape is judged inappropriately, as if making the accusation is judged as being as reprehensible as commiting the crime of rape itself.

It takes an amazing amount of courage to report sexual violence.

If Deen is a rapist then he needs to be prevented from raping anyone else again.

Rape is one hell of a thing to be accused of.

The infamy will remain with Deen for the rest of his days.

Whether he is guilty or not.

The importance of appearance

Recent events have made me think a lot about appearances and the vast amount of importance we place upon them.

Friday was our annual Christmas party for the staff of Starbucks St. Gallen Bahnhof, a greatly anticipated event, as it is a rare moment when our boss “Ebenezer Scrooge” Ricardo acts uncharacteristically generous!

Dinner was at a Tex Mex Restaurant in St. Gallen´s market square.

Preparation for me was simplicity itself: shower, shave, throw on boxers, pants, socks, shoes, shirt, tie, sweater, coat and hat – ready to roll.

For the eight men in attendance, this process was quick and easy.

The ladies in attendance, on the other hand…

Some had visited the salon before and may have purchased new dresses for the occasion and they had spent countless amounts of time on their make-up.

Among the many reasons I would never want to be a woman is that the maintenance and expense and work that goes into being a woman is far more than I would ever desire!

Don´t misunderstand me – the women looked stunningly beautiful and it was a welcome change to see these baristas in attire that is not the dress code of Starbucks.

But there is a tacit, unspoken psychology that suggests that it doesn´t really matter so much how a man looks as much as how a woman looks.

As long as the man´s attire is not an assault of riotous colour or mismatched patterns, ragged or unclean, a man can pretty much get away with wearing most anything as long as it is not blantantly rude or feminine as judged by the culture he is interacting with.

At work on the day before the party Nathalie (our Brazilian beauty) and I (Starbucks token Canadian) were trying to convince Katja (our Slovenian beauty) that she should come directly to the party once her shift was completed.

Use the Starbucks staff bathroom, I suggested.

It has a shower and a sink with a mirror and unless her work clothes underneath her apron were dirty, I couldn´t see a reason why she couldn´t join us at the restaurant shortly after quitting for the day.

The ladies stared at me as if I had lost my mind.

“Oh, no!”, Katja insisted.

She had to go home first, change her clothes, fix her hair and make-up there.

“What´s wrong with the Starbucks staff washroom?”,  I asked.

Again the shared look between them – God, he´s such an idiot.

“Have you seen the washroom?”, they shouted.

“It´s small, never really that clean and the men baristas use it as well.

When I have to pee I would rather use the lady customers´ toilet.”, Nathalie exclaimed.

I couldn´t understand why an unattractive bathroom would stop someone from using a fully functioning bathroom.

At home in Landschlacht – the same sort of image debate between my wife and me.

Every married man is accustomed to the phrase from his wife:

“You´re NOT going outside in THAT, are you?”

Which we follow with the exasperated question: “Why not?”

And is answered with a rolling of the eyes, heavy sighs and an alternative piece of clothing shoved into our hands.

Now this sort of interchange between man and mate is expected and seen relatively early in the relationship, but as the relationship evolves the battle escalates from public persona to private life.

Our apartment is surrounded by many windows which means that people can see inside, so at night we tend not to be exhibitionists when walking between the rooms.

My long-suffering  wife has surrendered to my habit of wearing jogging pants and sock-slippers when lounging about the apartment, but my choice of comfy shirt attire causes battle lines to be drawn.

A number of years ago I attended a high school class reunion where an old classmate gave me a bright silk Spider-man short-sleeved shirt, which I absolutely adore as I love the feel of the silk against my dry skin and I have loved the exploits of the Marvel superhero Spider-man since boyhood.

Ute, the aforementioned wife, absolutely loathes this shirt and threatens to toss it or burn it at the earliest opportunity, even though the only person who ever sees me wearing this shirt is her.

Same goes for my winter sleep shirt: a bright red, long-sleeved, Swiss cross on the chest with the letters SPHA, picture of a horse on the back, obtained spontaneously when I was shopping alone at a thrift shop I stumbled across during one of my hiking excursions.

I wear this shirt because it is comfortable and warm and I like the colour red.

It may be a tad garish and celebrates an organisation I know nothing about (the Swiss Painted Horse Association) but I feel relaxed in it.

Ute will use this shirt as kindling to burn the Spider-man shirt!

Much as sex strikes have been used in Columbia to protest against violent drug wars, in Poland to fight for legal abortion, in Amsterdam by sex workers to protest against harassment, in Turkey to get a main water supply to a village and to expel a gold mining company, in the Sudan to try and end civil war, in Landschlacht my wife threatens to banish me to the sofa or the balcony should I keep these shirts!

Good thing my sleep shirt is long-sleeved…it´s really cold out on the balcony!

How men and women being so different somehow keep populating the planet remains a mystery.



Raising Cain

Many a magazine and newspaper I see in the shops, almost every post I see on Facebook, much of what I hear and see on the TV, all seem convinced that the Friday 13 November attack on Paris demands a response.

Fighting fever and fervor has swept the West and much of the message is not whether the Islamic State should be fought but how it should be fought.

I myself cannot help but mourn the loss of life wherever it may occur and want justice upon anyone who would cause such suffering and sorrow upon a civilian population.

It is one thing when folks with weapons attack other folks with weapons.

It is entirely a different matter when unarmed folks are attacked by weapon wielding assailants.

We are told that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, but I wonder:

Does ISIS actually plan from the “caliphate” itself acts that occur outside their directly controlled territories?

Or is it to ISIS advantage to take credit for acts done by terrorists in their name as these acts give ISIS the reputation of being a force to be feared and respected?

The third possibility that the West itself creates acts of horror upon itself to drum up support for warfare is a conspiracy type theory I find difficult to accept as it seems too unlikely and too insane an option to soberly consider.

I cannot deny the feeling that something needs to be done to comfort the victims of attacks wherever they occur, but two responses I see time and time again unsettle me.

First, intelligence services time and time again always seem surprised when attacks occur in territories whose security they are responsible for, yet within days, sometimes even hours, manhunts begin for specific individuals who we are told are absolutely culpable for these acts and at no time does anyone raise the idea that an accused individual, reprehensible past or not, is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

Moments after the Boston Marathon Attack, we were told who did it, we followed with bloodthirsty anticipation the capture of the accused and with breathtaking speed the accused was tried and executed.

Long before the courtroom, the press and the public determined who was responsible and the hanging tree prepared for a lynching.

We, the average citizenry, place such unwavering faith and confidence in the powers that be and are ready to respond appropriately based on what we are told to be true.

As it is easier to believe what we are told than it is to investigate the veracity of this information, we simply let those that govern and administer us decide for us what best needs be done.

Second, as we demand quick response to the suffering that was visited upon civilian lives, few of us consider the consequences of swift retaliation.

So many of us are clamouring for sorrow and suffering to be visited upon ISIS that we perceive it to be a sign of wavering weakness if we stop to consider how many lives will be lost, how many families destroyed, how much damage will result and what follows after power-mad tyrannies are removed.

As long as no more of our lives are lost, no more of our families destroyed, no more damage happens to us, we don´t know or care what happens to others faraway from us.

I never thought the day would arrive that I would find myself partially seeing world politics from Russian President Vladimir Putin´s point-of-view.

I have always felt bothered by Russia´s annexation of the Crimea, citing the dual reasons that NATO was becoming too uncomfortably close to Russian territory for Putin´s liking and that the Russian-speaking population there preferred being controlled by Moscow rather than Kiev.

Not really new arguments…

America used the proximity argument regarding Soviet missiles in Cuba to almost result in nuclear war with Russia during the Kennedy Administration.

Nazi Germany used the language argument to justify invading Czechoslovakia as western Czechoslovakia had German speakers there.

Russia is insisting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, otherwise a power vacuum will result if he is removed.

ISIS itself might not have come into existence and become as powerful as it has become had there not been a power vacuum in Iraq and a civil war in Syria for it to take advantage of.

And as reprehensible and despotic as rulers like Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad or Muammar Qaddafi may have been, their removal can destroy their nations´ power structure, resulting in civil chaos and anarchy, ripe breeding grounds for both terrorist attacks and recruitment.

Russia focuses their attacks on Syrian rebels, (though with the recent bombing of a Russian airline this may change).

Turkey is more concerned with Kurdish nationalists than it is with ISIS.

Sunni and Shia Muslims cannot seem to put their differences aside long enough to deal with ISIS inside Iraqi and Syrian territory.

The West is unwilling to put boots on the ground, preferring long range bombing and drone attacks.

Innocent lives remain at stake, both worldwide and within the self-proclaimed caliphate.

Too often we in the West act quickly to destroy governments we disapprove of, but we consistently seem to fail at rebuilding collapsed nations after these governments have been disposed.

So we remove ISIS, what then?

There will always be radicals in the world, attracted to the purity of fundamentalism and feeling rejected because their foreignness makes it difficult to find gainful employment and attracts discrimination.

Removing ISIS will not remove terrorism.

And the irony is, as dangerous as ISIS is, it is a power structure and acts as a theocratic government over its conquered territories.

Though there are many who flee from ISIS, there are also many who flee to ISIS.

According to the 21 November issue of the Economist:

“Yet the Islamic State endures.

Indeed its territory  remains one of the safer parts of Syria…

Food is cheaper and there is justice of a sort.

There is also a functioning economy, largely thanks to an estimated 30,000 barrels of oil pumped daily from captured fields in eastern Syria and northern Iraq.”

(But, of course, nations would never go to war over oil…)

“It doles out alms to the poor in exchange for total obedience.

It promotes a cult of personality around Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

It churns out turgid propoganda about repaired bridges and newly opened schools.

…it has created multiple and mutually suspicious security services…to stave off coups.”

If you were given a choice between total anarchy combined with great uncertainty making even basic survival questionable versus a despotic regime that provides some semblance of order and a greater chance of survival which no one else seems able or willing to provide, could you honestly say you would prefer your children to starve?

Happily we in the West no longer have to make these choices.

Peoples in the Middle East, Africa and other regions are not as fortunate in this regard.

In my mind there is little question that ISIS needs to be dealt with decisively as too many lost lives cry out for justice.

The same could be said for organisations like Boko Haram in Nigeria.

But I think we need to soberly and objectively consider not just winning wars but as well bringing stability and order to the places we invade, not just leaving once the “bad guys” have been ousted.

Otherwise we will make martyrs out of monsters and create more damage and destruction than that we had intended to avenge.

We somehow need to show the world that faith is a matter of personal choice rather than state or military imposition.

We need to learn about other faiths other than our own, rather than simply hate other faiths because they are different or blindly fear them because  a few violent men have used these faiths to justify their barbaric acts.

As we sacrifice the lives of our military sons and daughters, while we sacrifice civilian lives caught in the crossfire, we need to leave behind not just the removal of inhumane despots and zealots but as well we need to replace these with a life worth living for,  a place where families can flourish.

The hate of terrorism, the fervor of fundamentalism, have one only enemy that can defeat them: love.

Not fear, not revenge, not paranoia.

Governments never seem to learn that, like sand,  the tighter the grip, the more control slips through the fingers.

Don´t just remove a governing force.

Teach the people how to govern themselves in a just society allowing individual thought and act that doesn´t violate others´freedom to do the same.

We need to act, not just react.

Yes, remove the negative but replace it with the positive, rather than just leaving behind a chaotic void of uncertainty and instability.

We are all brothers in our humanity.

We are our brothers´ keepers.



Brave New World / Meanwhile…

Recent statistic…

There are now more mobile phones on the planet than there are people.

The World Wide Web continues to grow at staggering rates, with millions of websites, hundreds of thousands of categories, in most of the world´s languages, serving at least half of humanity.


24,000 people die every day from hunger.

3/4 of the deaths are children under the age of five.

Over one billion people have to survive on less than a dollar a day.

842 million people across the world will go to bed hungry tonight.

One in five women experience a rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes.

Guns kill 34,000 Americans every year.

Today, 14,000 people will become infected with HIV/AIDS.

It is estimated that a person who turned 15 in 2000 has a 74% chance of becoming infected with HIV by his/her 50th birthday.

Every nine seconds one more person becomes infected.

Every thirteen seconds one more person dies.

68 million people will have died prematurely as a result of AIDS by 2020.

24 million people work in sweatshops in 160 countries around the world, with about 80% working under conditions that violate law and morality.

More than half the population of Earth have no access to any kind of toilet.

Diarrhoea kills over 2 million children per year.

Earth is a world of increasing religious intolerance, despite the reality that there is much common ground between religions, it is the differences that are highlighted.

Religions have grown from the desire to understand the place of human beings in the universe, the need to comprehend the mysteries of life and death and the wish to experience meaning and happiness in the face of suffering, yet mankind seems bent more towards destruction than understanding and cooperation.

At least half the world´s 6,000 languages still in existence will be dead or near death by the year 2050.

Without words to express things, knowledge and ideas begin to disappear.

The loss of any one language means a reduction in the sum total of human thought and knowledge and an impoverishment of the human race.

Worldwide, human rights are violated, millions are homeless, racism remains, pollution increases, water levels are rising while polar regions are shrinking, but here in the West, most of us suffer from both apathy and ignorance.

If we care, we just don´t know.

If we know, we just don´t care.

Here in Landschlacht, I am several time zones removed from the United States, so Americans are probably asleep or winding up their nights out after many have gathered around tables of roast turkey, corn bread, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and maybe a beer or a glass of red wine.

As I type these words, I can almost smell the aromas, taste the textures, roll the wine upon my tongue, hear the jovial talk.

Americans gathered together with friends and loved ones are truly unaware of how truly blessed they are as a nation for the resources that sustain them.

Most Americans do not go hungry, in fact, obesity, as a result of overeating, is a growing dilemma.

Most Americans have a roof over their heads, safe from the elements.

Most Americans have a toilet in their homes.

Though income distribution remains a problem in the US, with many Americans earning insufficient wages comparable to high costs of living, working Americans usually work under humane conditions.

Yet Americans, like the citizens of other prosperous countries, including my homeland Canada and, my present country of residence, Switzerland,  are unhappy  and depressed with their daily lives, despite having standards and quality of life unimaginable in much of the world.

They simply cannot imagine their lives without sufficient supplies of water, heat and nourishment.

They cannot conceive of living without electricity or sanitation or doing without their automobiles.

They cannot picture themselves without TV, music, electronics.

American Thanksgiving is winding down as I write these words, but it is my hope that we in the West, we who do not lack the basics of life, remain grateful for the things we take for granted.

It is my hope that we overcome our ignorance by using our electronics to discover the realities of the rest of the world.

It is my hope that we overcome our apathy and our fears and our paranoia and think beyond selfish national boundaries and learn to care about humanity as a whole.

Then, and only then, will we deserve the blessings that have been bestowed upon us.


Giving Thanks

For Canadians a typical aspect of what we label as “American” is the tendency to steal the credit for someone´s idea.

So often Americans have the notion that if something is a great idea then it must have been America that came up with it.

Now, there is no denying that the United States has indeed come up with some great ideas, but where the US excels is in the marketing of a good idea.

And they market their ideas so well that the world and Americans themselves begin to believe that it was America that originated the notions.

Take, for example, the idea of the assembly line, Americans are convinced that it was an American named Henry Ford who invented it.

He didn´t.

He took a pre-existing idea and mechanised it.

Today is US Thanksgiving Day and many Americans are convinced that not only is their holiday the only Thanksgiving (it isn´t) but that it was Americans that came up with the idea in the first place.

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving as well, but due to an earlier winter/shorter autumn, we celebrate Thanksgiving one month earlier.

Americans tell one another that the origin story of Thanksgiving celebrates the Pilgrims´ first year in America where they sat down with the natives who had taught them how to grow crops on American soil.

It is a nice story.

But throughout world history and all over the world, people have celebrated the harvest each autumn with some sort of thanksgiving ceremony.

Demeter, the ancient Greek goddess of grain, was thanked at the Festival of Thesmosphoria.

On the first day of autumn, married women built leafy shelters.

The second day was a day of fasting.

The third and final day was a feast with offerings to Demeter.

The Romans had Cerelia on 4 October when the fruits of the harvest were offered up to Ceres.

Cerelia was celebrated with music, parades, games and a feast.

The Chinese harvest festival, Chung Ch´ui, is held during the full moon in the 8th month.

This is the moon´s birthday, celebrated with special “moon cakes”, stamped with the picture of a rabbit.

(The Chinese see a rabbit, not a man, in the moon.)

The harvest festival of the Jews, Sukkoth, the feast of tabernacles, sees Jews building small huts out of branches and foilage and decorated with the fruits of the harvest.

Today in the US families are getting together over a turkey dinner.

Some of them may go to church and praise God for the blessings He has bestowed upon them.

Thanksgiving is one day of days, but every day is a great day to say “Thank you”.

In every area of human endeavour, there are things and people that have made our lives so much better.

Every day is a good day to reflect on all that is good in the world.

Think of the people who give of their time and love.

Think of the people without whom happiness would not be complete.

And we should not only be grateful for the blessings we have received, but as well we should give so that others may be blessed as well.

Many Americans tend to forget that their forefathers were refugees and immigrants themselves, coming to America in the hopes that their lives would be blessed and needing the help of those already there to make their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness possible.

There is something inherantly wrong about being grateful for your blessings, yet denying others the same opportunities to be blessed.

There is something inherantly wrong about living in fear and suspicion when it was the generosity of others that made your blessings possible.

And there is one other thing we must never forget when we consider harvest time:

We reap what we sow.



The past and other foreign countries

Much to my wife´s endless despair and frustration my personal library of books, DVDs and music keeps growing and expanding in our apartment, but this is one issue between us that I have difficulty apologizing for!

I know that books, films and music can be easily downloaded onto our electronic gadgets, (what Ute would prefer we collected!), but, call me “Old School”, there is something comforting about owning and holding in your hands things that give you pleasure.

Yes, books do consume space, but it is this very thing that gives me a sense of belonging with and to these books.

For reasons I cannot quite define I find I remember the contents of a book more if it is hard copy on my shelves than if I read that book online.

Of the many books I collect and that capture both my attention and my imagination are books on history.

I particularly enjoy reading histories that are so well-written that I can imagine myself right there, in that place and time.

Two books I have recently obtained are brilliant for their ability to project a person of the present day into eras gone-by.

James Wyllie, Johnny Acton and David Goldblatt´s The Time Travel Handbook: 18 Journeys from the Eruption of Vesuvius to the Woodstock Festival transports the reader back to the greatest spectacles in history.

Dip your hankerchief in English King Charles I´s blood after his execution(1649) or watch Vesuvius erupt (79 AD).

Join Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais in 1520.

March on Versailles with the French Revolutionary women of Paris in 1789.

Sail with Captain James Cook to Tahiti (1769) and Australia (1770).

Spend time at Xanadu with Marco Polo and Kublai Khan (1276).

Accompany Charlie Parker at the birth of Bebop in New York City in 1942 or with the Beatles in Hamburg in 1960.

Take part in the VE Day celebrations in London (1945) or the Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989).

Wylie, Acton and Goldblatt treat historical events like travel destinations, provide the time traveller with suitable clothing for the era visited and even offer prosthetics and make-up if your skin tone and physiognomy are markedly different from that of the locals.

There are stringent health checks so historical eras are not devastated by modern viruses and by the same token to avoid having the traveller bring to the present a deadly form of the Black Death or the Plague.

Wylie, Acton and Goldblatt prepare the traveller for his leap back in time with language and residential orientation to ensure that the traveller can blend into the past without drawing special attention or altering the past.

So, don´t expect to take “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” with Neil Armstrong, or join Brutus in the assassination of Julius Caesar.

Reading this Handbook makes one actually wish that such a time travel agency existed.

As brilliant and creative as the Handbook is, Jon Mortimer´s The Time Traveller´s Guide to Medieval England is even more powerful for its ability to make the reader not just study history but actually feel that you are living history in that moment, as if yesterday was now.

Imagine you could travel back to 14th century England.

What would you see, hear and smell?

Where would you stay?

What would you eat?

How would you know if you are coming down with the Plague?

It is a dusty London street on a summer morning in 1377.

A servant opens an upstairs shutter and starts beating a blanket.

A dog guarding a traveller´s packhorses starts barking.

Traders call out from their market stalls while two women stand chatting, one shielding her eyes from the sun, the other with a basket in her arms.

Wooden beams project out over the street.

Painted signs above the doors show what is on sale in the shops beneath.

Suddenly, a thief grabs a merchant´s purse near the traders´ stalls and the merchant runs after him, shouting.

Everyone turns to watch.

For you, standing in the middle of all this, everything is happening (as opposed to it having happened).

L.P. Hartley once wrote:

“The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there.”

These two time-travelling tomes have got me thinking about actual present day foreign countries.

What problems do people in other countries have?

What delights have they found?

What are they themselves like?

What is it like to live their lives?

Why do they do what they do, in the ways that they do?

Why do they believe what they do?

How do they greet each other?

What is their sense of humour like?

Mortimer suggests that to understand your own century you need to come to terms with at least two others.

What we have in common with the past is just as important, real and as essential to our lives as those things that make us different.

We might eat differently, dress differently, use different technology, be taller or fatter and live longer, but like people of the past we know what grief is and what love, fear, pain, ambition, enmity and hunger are.

But couldn´t the same be said about other countries today?

W.H. Auden once suggested that to understand your own country you need to have lived in at least two others.

People are people and human like you, wherever you or they may be.

When we understand others we begin to understand ourselves, for such is the stuff of everyday life.

Once we begin to understand, once we begin to gather knowledge and experience, then truly do we become worthy of our shared humanity.

Arguing with the gatekeepers

I´ve been reading Mark Hertsgaard´s The Eagle´s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World and what follows is a combination of his thoughts alongside my own.

It is always difficult to argue with the right or conservatives of America.

It is often difficult to debate or discuss with many an “average” American.

Americans, for the most part, see themselves as decent, hardworking people who wish the rest of the world well and do more than their share to help it.

They are proud of their “freedom” and “prosperous” way of life and they feel that others want the same.

Many of them sincerely believe that they live in the greatest country in the world.

Many believe that foreigners are just embittered fanatics, jealous of American wealth, resentful of American power.

America receives a disproportionate amount of coverage from news media around the world, while many Americans still don´t know much about the rest of the world or care about the rest of the world unless American lives are directly affected.

Americans need to realize that the prevention of further attacks in the future will not be achieved by unleashing the miltary or tightening domestic security.

If Americans want a healthy relationship with the six billion people they share the planet with, they need to understand who those people are, how they live, what they think and why.

How, foreigners ask, can America be so powerful yet so naive?

How can America be so ignorant of foreign nations, peoples and languages yet be so certain it knows what´s best for everyone?

How can the average American be so open and generous yet its foreign policy be so often domineering?

Why does America ally itself with sharia law countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that openly support and train terrorists, yet see no contradiction accusing Syrian refugees fleeing this law as potential terrorists?

How does America not see what its government does in its name as prejudical against Americans as a group, while simultaneously categorize the horrendous deeds of a few as justification to condemn whole groups?

This land of freedom finds many Americans willing to give up some freedoms in an endless war on terrorism.

Some even support increased government power to detain even legal immigrants, favour identification cards for Arab (or “Arab-looking”) Americans and some even go so far as to think that Arab Americans should be detained in camps.

In a land whose Constitution states that “all men are created equal” not all men are considered equal.

To the eyes of many foreigners, America feels no obligation to obey international law, pushing other countries around, forcing on them policies and sometimes leaders that serve only American interests, and, should they resist too much, bomb them into submission, yet Americans view themselves as even-handed champions of democracy and freedom.

America claims not to be an empire, yet it possesses scores of military bases, the world´s highest volume of arms sales, massive nuclear overkill and has throughout its history, starting with its own native populations, repeatedly used force to expand and protect its territory, whether economic or geographic.

It would almost be comic, if it were not so tragic, that the very land that feels so threatened by the rest of the world is viewed by much of the world as the world´s biggest threat.

Americans are justifiably worried about civilian casualities, yet how many civilian casualities are its military and intelligence forces responsible for?

Do Americans know?

Do Americans care?

I believe more of them would care if more of them knew, for I sincerely believe that the average American is good and decent and generous, but ill-served by media that only sells the news rather than tells the news.

The world doesn´t hate the American people.

It hates American government, American military and American corporations.

Americans who love their country should criticize the powers that be and fight for a world where there is truly liberty and justice for all, within and outside the United States, a planet of opportunity for all in pursuit of happiness.

Americans give their government power with their votes, finance the government/the military/the corporations with their taxes and their incomes, bolster the government/military/corporations with silent passive acquiescence.

All of us, American or not, need to do a better job informing ourselves about what is going on in the world and our roles in the world.

We need to soberly and competently study the problems and possibilities confronting us, rather than hiding behind our gates in fear and paranoia.

We need to discuss and debate, amongst ourselves and with others, what to do about them.

We live in a world of so much information that it is remiss of us to blindly accept what one source tells us without examining for ourselves opposing views and different perspectives.

We need to act in ways we ourselves wish to be treated and refuse to act/react when others do not treat us accordingly, for we are responsible for our own actions and reactions.

We cannot claim to be decent worthy people if we do not act decently and worthy of decency.

We also can no longer afford to remain passive when those to whom we have given economic/military/political power act irresponsibly.

We should not let fear keep us from doing what is right, caring for others both locally and globally.

Innocent, hard-working folks, be they in New York, London, Madrid, Paris, Nigeria or Mali, should not have to die or be crippled and injured because those with power cannot act responsibly, whether that power is in the hands of fundamentalists, dictators, democrats or fanatics, whether that power is wielded in the name of religion, profits, nationalism or democracy.

“We share the same biology, regardless of ideology.”(Sting)

My own private Bhutan

Everyone, I think, has their own list of places they would like to see before they die.

Of the many places I have yet to discover I would love to visit Bhutan one day.

“Bhutan is a world that you had only hope existed.

Vertical prayer flags flutter in the breeze and men dressed in a traditional gho (long flowing red robe) and Argyle socks stroll past yellow-roofed shrines.”
(Bradley Mayhew, Lonely Planet Bhutan)

Ah, to see beautiful monasteries cling to sheer cliffs above whispering pine forests…

Dancing monks in colourful costumes of angry and compassionate deities, heroes, demons and animals…

Traditionally dressed farmers tending their crops and animals according to century-old traditions…

Traditional bamboo bow archery competitions propelling arrows at astonishing speeds across immense distances to strike impossibly tiny targets…

Murals and frescoes that tell stories and mesmerize those who gaze upon them…

Jacaranda trees splashing lilac flowers down whitewashed walls as red-robed monks wander seas of purple petals…

A place that places real value on cultural heritage, health, education, good government, ecology and individual happiness…

Bamboo baskets, brass butter lamps, yak hair blankets for sale at art schools and handicraft shops and local markets…

Dried fish, soft cheese, betal nut, chili, curly fern fronds and red rice that tantalise the senses…

Cantilever bridges, rolls of prayer flags and other exotic offerings…

Evergreen forests with amazing diversity of plants and birds…

This is what I want to see.

But am I already too late?

“Bhutan is a country that is a Buddhist sanctuary unto itself, a refuge from the world and its ills.

In the 1930s James Hilton, in his novel, Lost Horizon, called Bhutan “Shangri-la”.

The King of Bhutan decided that, as a spiritual society, happiness was the most important thing, and in 1998, defined Bhutan´s key aim as “Gross National Happiness”.

Bhutan was the last country in the world to introduce TV.

It arrived in 2002 with 46 cable channels, throwing Bhutan headlong into the global culture of the 21st century.

Everyone underestimated the impact that TV would have on local life and culture.

One third of Bhutan´s girls now want to look more American (whiter skin, blonde hair).

A similar proportion of girls also aspire to a new approach to relationships (boyfriends not husbands, sex before marriage).

An editorial in a Bhutanese newspaper warned:

“We are seeing for the first time broken families, school dropouts and other negative youth crimes. We are beginning to see crime associated with drug users all over the world, shoplifting, burglary and violence.”

Swapping Gross National Happiness for the joys of The Big Bang Theory may not have been such a good thing after all.

US children spend more time each year in front of a TV or an electronic display screen than they do in school.

In the UK four-year-olds spend four hours a day in front of a TV.”
(Michael Norton, 365 Ways to Change the World: How to Make a Difference…One Day at a Time)

As an adult Canadian ex-pat resident in Switzerland, Swiss TV doesn´t really interest me, but I find myself far too often lying on the couch watching DVDs of American sitcoms or drama series that I don´t see regularly here as we don´t have cable TV and I don´t like paying for unnecessary apps.

Imagine what I could do with all the extra free time that I waste lying on the couch…

Exercising, hiking, writing, changing the world…

Electricity, satellite TV and mobile phones now connect rural Bhutanese to the rest of the globe and perhaps life now no longer revolves around crop cycles and seasons, so perhaps the Bhutan I am searching for may no longer exist.

Or maybe Bhutan, or the Swiss version of Shangri-la, is just outside my door.

I need to take my overweight bulk of an unfit middle-aged man off the couch and turn off the DVD and TV and find myself a life beyond the living room.

Bhutan beckons…

Canada Slim and The Poet´s Path

“Insidious forces are marshalled against the time, space and will to walk and against the version of humanity that act embodies.

One force is the filling-up…”the time in between”, the time of walking to or from a place, of meandering, of running errands.

That time has been deplored as a waste, reduced and its remainder filled with earphones playing music and mobile phones relaying conversations.

The very ability to appreciate this uncluttered time, the uses of the useless, often seems to be evaporating, as does appreciation of being outside – including outside the familiar.

Mobile phone conversations seem to serve as a buffer against solitude, silence and encounters with the unknown.

…Obesity and its related health crises seem to be becoming more and more of a transnational pandemic as people in more parts of the world become immobilized and overfed from childhood on, a downward spiral where the inactive body becomes less and less capable of action.

That obesity is not just circumstantial – due to a world of digital amusements and parking lots, of sprawl and suburbs – but conceptual in origin, as people forget that their bodies could be adequate to the challenges that face them and a pleasure to use.

People perceive and imagine their bodies as essentially passive, a treasure or a burden but not a tool for work and travel.”
(Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking)

I went for a walk yesterday, from Eglisau on the Rhine River to Bülach near the Glatt River, not so far, a four-hour walk, but rewarding nonetheless, especially after too long a time since my last meanderings.

Walking integrates my body, my mind and a sense of place, both geographical and spiritual.

Walking restores my sense of wonder of the world and gives me the air of open-minded exploration and imminent discovery.

Walking does not need a destination, as it is the savouring of details and varying perspectives, the consideration of life at a pace of three miles an hour.

“While walking, the body and the mind can work together, so that thinking becomes almost a physical, rhythmic act.

…Past and present are brought together when you walk.

Each walk moves through space like a thread through fabric, sewing it together into a continuous experience – so unlike the way air travel chops up time and space as cars and trains do.

This continuity (has been) lost in the Industrial Age, but we can choose to reclaim it, again and again, and some do.

The fields and streets are waiting.”
(Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: The History of Walking)

Eglisau, population 5,000, is all about location, location, location.

It is at the crossroads of two medieval traffic routes: it controlled shipping on the Rhine as it is located on both sides of the Rhine and the cities of Zürich, Winterthur and Schaffhausen are quick and easy to reach from Eglisau.

It once was a provincial capital and it remains, as it ever was, a market town.

Eglisau once generated vast revenues from shipping and salt transport on the Rhine, but with the 1919 building of the Rheinsfelden power station downriver the levels of the Rhine rose while old houses, incomes and a century-old wooden bridge were sacrificed all in the name of progress.

Still the foundations of the medieval old town are well preserved and still recognizable today – 17th century Gothic houses, the Protestant Church completed in 1717 with majestic views of the River, wine trails on the southern slopes high above, the baroque Weierbachhaus dating from 1670 – a winemaker´s house of historic value now a local Museum displaying artifacts on the town´s history, shipping, salmon fishing, salt trade and industry – make Eglisau well worth a visit.

A cruise down the Rhine is a pleasure as you float downstream under a 90-metre long railway viaduct of enormous 12 metre high stone arches.

Eglisau is an ideal starting point for hikes through vineyards and forests on either shore you may choose to follow.

I walked downriver to the Rheinsfelden hydraulic power station (a protected historical monument) to meet the Gottfried Keller Poet´s Path, a four-hour hiking trail from the town of Glattfelden to the hamlet of Schachen, along the Laubeberg (a elevated series of hills), to the Rhine and the Kaiserstuhl (“the Emperor´s Seat”, a nearby mountain), to end at the Schwarzwassersteiz Castle.

“The association between walking and philosophizing became so widespread that central Europe has places named after it: the celebrated Philosophenweg in Heidelberg where Hegel walked, the Philosophendamm in Königsberg that Kant passed on his daily stroll and the Philosopher´s Way Kierkegaard used in Copenhagen…

Jean-Jacques Rousseau remarked in his Confessions:

“I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think. My mind only works with my legs.”
(Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking)

Glattfelden, population 5,000 as well, is in a lovely setting on the banks of the Glatt River (a stream in comparison to the Rhine) and walking to Glattfelden along the Glatt on a weekday while others work is a delight where one can appreciate peace and quiet only disturbed by the occasional racuous quacking from families of ducks.

Glattfelden, in the Zürich Unterland, on the lower reaches of the River Glatt, is the home of Switzerland´s largest film studio, as well as the “hometown” of poet/author Gottfried Keller (1819-1890).

Keller, in his youth, spent frequent holidays at the Glattfelden house of his uncle.

In his novel Green Henry (Der grüne Heinrich), Keller describes Glattfelden as “a valley of green meadows, laced by the bends of a crystal-clear stream and encircled by forested mountains.”

Despite the ravages of Time with its industry and traffic, Glattfelden still lies in the middle of peaceful countryside.

It is a beautiful village considered to be of national importance and worthy of preservation.

The Gottfried Keller Poet´s Path and the Gottfried Keller Centre were created in honour of the poet.

On the hills above the railway tracks and through forests with decaying post-suicidal leaves piled thickly on the ground, I walked to Bülach, a vibrant old town, regarded as the business centre of the Zürich Unterland, just 15 km away from Zürich as the crow flies.

Bülach, population 18,000, like Glattfelden and Eglisau and many other European country towns, has an attractive town centre.

The town hall is an impressive gabled building with a lovely timber-framed facade.

The Reformed Church and the popular Sigristenkeller Gallery stand on a small hill and are surrounded by pretty old buildings, including the Pfarrhaus and the old Tithe Barn.

The church is named after Saint Laurentius, to whom the town’s coat of arms is dedicated.

Saint Laurentius was Deacon to Pope Sixtus II and became a martyr when he was condemned to death by fire in 258 AD.

The church forms a well-matched unit with the Town Hall and has a tower rising above it to a height of 74 meters.

Also on the first Saturday of every month at 6 pm, trumpeters play for half an hour from the top of the tower.

In the 13th century, medieval Bülach was fortified by walls, whose well-preserved remains are still visible today.

Two kilometres north of the town is the Petersboden Vantage Tower with lovely views of Bülach and its surroundings.

A 40-minute hike from the Tower leads you to the confluence of the Töss and Rhine Rivers with barbeque and bathing spots and a beaver trail.

On Thursday evenings, the Bülach Observatory, the Sternwarte, offers the chance to view the heavens in all their glory.

To the west of town is the Neeracherried, one of Switzerland´s last fens, while to the south, halfway between Bülach and the Zürich International Airport outside Kloten, are the ruins of a Roman estate.

It is truly a unique emotional experience to stand in the middle of the fascinating flora and fauna fantasia of reed beds or wander through the excavation site of an ancient villa while just overhead there are close-up views of flying machines taking off or landing from all over the world.

When I think of yesterday, I curse today.

My PC refuses to start up, while my laptop reacts slower than molasses in January.

My technical troubles cause me to neglect breakfast and now smoke fills the apartment and the smell of bacon ashes permeates everything.

Breakfast is as irretrievable as the body of St. Laurentius.

Outside my window, the morning is a damp prospect of a sky raining down “cats, dogs and elephants”.

I think of my First World problems and, despite the weather, Outside seems a whole lot better.

There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

Time I went for a walk again.

For God, Prince and Fatherland: The Principality of Liechtenstein

Today I was truly a stranger in a strange land…

I visited, for the purpose of finding work, the Principality of Liechtenstein, only two hours’ distance by train from my own wee village by the Lake of Constance.

Liechtenstein is a landlocked German-speaking constitutional microstate monarchy sandwiched between the Rhine River and the Alps, between Switzerland and Austria.

It has an area of only 160 square kilometres (62 square miles) and a population of only 37,000.

Liechtenstein has the 3rd highest gross domestic product per person in the world and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world.

It is mainly mountains, farmers’ fields and finance.

It produces its own stamps but uses the Swiss franc.

The capital, Vaduz, is so small (population: 5,300) that even Liechtensteiners call the capital a village.

Vaduz is one of the very few capital cities in the world without an airport or a railway station, so to get there one either drives a car, rides a bicycle, walks or takes a post bus there.

A traveller going from Switzerland or Austria to the Principality does not have to show a passport or identity papers at the borders and there are few signs that even indicate that there are borders.

Liechtenstein is the world’s largest producer of sausage skins and false teeth and the only country in the world with more registered companies than people.

For, like their Swiss neighbours, one thing that Liechtensteiners excel at is making a profit.

First, they make a great deal of money from tourism as there is a kind of romance about visiting tiny countries that draw curious folks to their doors.

Liechtenstein, the world’s 6th smallest country, like other micronations, such as Andorra or San Marino, is a figment of one’s imagination.

It is hard to believe that such a small country can actually exist, but because of its size one instinctively feels that such a tiny state is worth preserving.

After all, small is beautiful, or at least not being big it is not that horribly ugly.

Liechtenstein makes money (10% of its national income) from postage stamps that are world famous for their vast variety of designs – pictorial, biographical, industrial, historical, scenic, comical – all beautifully engraved and coloured.

60% of Liechtenstein’s income is derived from the desire of individuals and institutions abroad to set up companies in a tax haven which asks no questions and keeps its mouth shut, though this is changing.

Liechtenstein banks hold assets of more than 80 billion francs.

Liechtenstein still has very low business taxes (2nd lowest in Europe) as well as easy Rules of Incorporation.

It also generates revenue from foundations – which are financial entities created to hide the true owner of non-resident foreigners’ financial holdings for those attempting to avoid or evade taxes in their home countries – but recently Liechtenstein has displayed stronger determination to prosecute international money-launderers and is working hard to promote its image as a legitimate financial centre.

By 2009, after a series of tax investigations in numerous countries whose governments (primarily Germany, Britain and the US)suspected that some of their citizens were evading their tax obligations by using banks and foundations in Liechtenstein, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) finally removed Liechtenstein from its blacklist of “uncooperative” countries.

In 2009, the British government department, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, agreed with Liechtenstein to start exchanging information.

There is only one hospital in Liechtenstein.

There is only one prison in Liechtenstein, a prison so small that prisoners’ meals are sent over from a nearby restaurant.

Vaduz is nether terribly fascinating nor picturesque in and of itself, but its setting is arresting.

The town nestles at the very foot of 6,700-foot Mt. Alpspitz.

On an overhanging outcrop directly above the town is the fortress royal Vaduz Castle and although it is usually closed to the public, it is well worth your while to climb up to its gates just for the view.

For a rare peek inside the castle grounds, arrive on 15 August, Liechtenstein’s National Day, when there are fantastic fireworks and His Serene Highness Prince Hans Adam II invites all 37,000 Liechtensteiners over to his place for a glass of locally produced wine or beer.

The Castle has walls 12 feet thick and contains the Prince’s personal art collection, which once included the only Leonardo da Vinci, the portrait “Ginerva de’ Benci”, in private hands.

The Prince of Liechtenstein is the world’s 6th wealthiest monarch with an estimated wealth of 5 billion US dollars.

Happily, the country’s population enjoys one of the world’s highest standards of living.

Though Liechtenstein is officially a constitutional monarchy, the Prince reigns supreme by popular demand.

In 2003, the people voted in a referendum to hand the Prince more significant new powers to appoint judges, veto parliamentary decisions and dismiss the government, effectively creating Western Europe’s only absolute monarchy.

Liechtenstein is the only country in the world to have been named after the person who bought it, Hans Adam II’s ancestor Johann Adam Andreas of the Von Liechtenstein family of Vienna purchased the Lordship of Schellenberg (northern Liechtenstein) and the County of Vaduz in 1712.

Liechtenstein is the last remaining fragment of the Holy Roman Empire and is so obscure that the royal family didn’t even bother to come and see it for 150 years.

The Principality is a quiet humble place, mostly populated by Catholics, who take an impressive 22 days’ public holiday a year.

The national anthem “Oben am jungen Rhein” (upon the young Rhine) is sung in German to the tune of “God save the Queen” and the national motto, which is also the motto of the country’s two political parties, is “faith in God, Prince and Fatherland”.

Vaduz’s centre is modern and sterile and looks as if it were built in the Eastern Soviet Bloc in a hurry, a collection of duty-free luxury goods stores and cube-shaped concrete buildings.

But just a few minutes’ walk to the northeast of town, one finds a charming quarter of traditional houses and rose gardens surrounded by quiet vineyards and Alpine glory.

The Internet assured me that Vaduz, being the capital of a financially prosperous principality, had, beside Liechtenstein’s two universities, the Liechtenstein Institute and the International Academy of Philosophy, two private schools for the learning and teaching of English as a foreign language.

One of the schools only offers translations, while the other has ceased to exist!

Maybe though this is for the best…

Liechtenstein for the foreigner seems only fit for the tourist or the nature lover.

To acquire citizenship, a referendum must be held in the Liechtenstein village where the applicant lives.

If that referendum approves his application, then the Prime Minister (currently Adrian Hasler) and his cabinet must then vote on it.

This almost never happens.

Hundreds of families have lived in Liechtenstein for generations and are still treated as foreigners.

Happily there are the sacred principles of Liechtenstein hospitality:

When money knocks on your door, invite it in with a smile and look after it just as if it were your own.

I did find most of the Liechtensteiners I met, at least in the tourist or gastronomic trades, to be genuinely welcoming and warm, at least compared to Swiss standards.

Yes, there are lower taxes here and some duty free opportunities, but prices remain outrageously expensive for those on a budget who don’t drive a Mercedes Benz.

The country is so friendly that in Liechtenstein’s last military engagement (1866) when 80 men were sent to fight Italians, with no one killed, they came back with 81 men because they had made a friend on the way!

This is a land made to explore but not linger, to spend time and money in but not to derive great excitement from.

Liechtenstein is a dream, a fairy tale of mountain views and Alpine air, of castles and cows, of fields and flowers, of museums and trails.

It is tasty vanilla on a continent of many flavors.

Liechtenstein is a centuries-old backwater with no sense of antiquity.

It is a mouse surrounded by lions remaining secure in its mousehole den.

But if your heart is searching for whimsy in a place of wonderous beauty…

Hop on the post bus, Gus.

Smile for a while.